INDIA: WESTERN GHATS AND NILGIRI ENDEMICS SET

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INDIA: WESTERN GHATS AND NILGIRI ENDEMICSSET DEPARTURE TRIP REPORT12 – 25 JANUARY 2020By Dylan VasapolliMalabar Trogon was one of the trip’s main targets and showed well on a number of urs.com

India - South: January 20202 TRIP REPORTOverviewThis two-week set-departure tour takes in the best of southern Indian birding and gives one accessto nearly all of the Western Ghats endemics. Beginning in Bangalore the tour gradually movessouthward, first to Mysore and the excellent Mudumalai area, and, following some time here, tothe high-elevation town of Ooty, where a number of prized endemics await in the NilgiriMountains. Continuing on our southward trajectory we move across the Palghat Gap into theAnaimalai Hills to the south, which have their own suite of endemics, and we focus our time onbirding around Topslip, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and the town of Munnar. The tour thenprogresses to the Kerala coast, where our remaining days are spent birding arguably the bestbirding area in southern India, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, before the tour comes to an end in Kochi.The Critically Endangered (IUCN) White-rumped Vulture is perhaps best sought in southernIndia.This tour would see a small group joining, with only two participants, Danny and Ira. The tourwent smoothly, with little interruptions from the weather; however, the Pongal festival did preventus from gaining entry into several areas, although fortunately in the end this didn’t cost us anyparticular bird species. The birding was extremely successful, and we did very well throughout thetour, finding almost all of the possible Western Ghats endemics and our targets generally, asevidenced by our commendable trip list, totaling over 270 species. Some of the highlights includedthe likes of Painted Bush Quail, Red Spurfowl, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Great Eared Nightjar,Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Sri Lanka Bay Owl, Indian Pitta, Malabar Barbet, White-belliedTreepie, Malabar Trogon, White-bellied Minivet, Black-and-orange and Nilgiri Flycatchers,Indian Blue, White-bellied Blue, and Nilgiri Blue Robins, Nilgiri Thrush, Nilgiri and com

India - South: January 20203 TRIP REPORTLaughingthrushes, Nilgiri Pipit, and many more. Seeing a large flock of some 50 of both theCritically Endangered (IUCN) Indian and White-rumped Vultures was a major privilege andone of the ultimate highlights, as was our great run on various nocturnal birds, noting all of thepossible nightjars and almost all of the possible owls.Mammals weren’t to be forgotten, and we found the bulk of the expected species, which includedChital (Spotted Deer), Sambar, Bonnet Macaque, and Nilgiri Langur, with one of the highlightsbeing a few separate sightings of Asian Elephants. Species lists can be found at the end of thisreport.Detailed ReportDay 1, January 12, 2020. Arrival in Bangalore and transfer to Mysore, birding en-routeDanny arrived yesterday evening, while Ira had clocked in earlier in the morning, and at 6 a.m. wehad all convened at our hotel and were loaded up in the car, ready to begin. It took a little while tonegotiate the mega-city of Bangalore, but we arrived at our first birding site, the RamanagaraRamdevara Betta Vulture Sanctuary, in good time. We immediately set off to a good vantage pointto wait for the vultures (Indian and Egyptian Vultures – which are the major targets here) to beginmoving about. It was still a little hazy in the early stages, and not much was moving, but a patientvigil eventually began to pay off as birds started becoming active. As if on cue two EgyptianVultures came into view and spent a short while flying around just above us, while a number ofother raptors were also visible – Black, Brahminy, Black-winged Kites, Besra, Oriental HoneyBuzzard, and Booted Eagle were all noted, along with two Woolly-necked Storks. Despite ourpatience we were to luck out with the Indian Vulture, though. While waiting we enjoyed manyother species in the surrounding area, top of which was the scarce and localized Yellow-throatedBulbul, which showed well in the end, along with Laughing and Spotted Doves, our firstindividual of the endemic White-cheeked Barbet, Indian Golden Oriole, CommonWoodshrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Ashy Prinia, Dusky Crag Martin,Indian Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Purple-rumped and Purple Sunbirds, and anassortment of small seedeaters including Red Avadavat, Indian Silverbill, and Scaly-breastedMunia. After this great start we continued toward the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, where weundertook a boat ride on the Kavery River to see all the nesting waterbirds. Boat rides are usuallyalways excellent, and this one was certainly no different, giving us excellent looks and photoopportunities at all the various species present. These included Great Stone-curlew (Thick-knee),Red-wattled Lapwing, Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Oriental Darter, Indian and LittleCormorants, Spot-billed Pelican, Purple and Grey Herons, and Black-crowned Night Heron,Great, Little, and Intermediate Egrets, Black-headed and Red-naped Ibises, EurasianSpoonbill, and White-throated Kingfisher. A number of Muggers (Marsh Crocodiles) were alsoin evidence along the river. The surrounding scrub and bushes held a few other species, whichincluded Indian Grey Hornbill, Common Iora, White-spotted (Spot-breasted) Fantail,Cinerous Tit, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, and Pale-billed Flowerpecker.We had a late lunch before checking into our hotel in Mysore, where we relaxed for a short whilebefore venturing out once again for the remainder of the day. We called in at the nearbyKukkarahalli Lake, where we birded parts of this large dam’s shoreline. There were a number [email protected]

4 TRIP REPORTIndia - South: January 2020similar waterbirds to those we had seen at Ranganathittu earlier in the day, nesting here as well(albeit much more distantly), but we also picked up a few different species such as Indian Spotbilled Duck, Greater Coucal, Grey-headed Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen, Blackwinged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, and Common Kingfisher, while the surrounding trees andscrub played host to Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Coppersmith Barbet, Rose-ringedParakeet, Common Tailorbird, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Jungle Myna, Tickell’s BlueFlycatcher, and Purple-rumped Sunbird. We ended a great first day with a wonderful meal.The attractive Painted Stork showed well at Ranganathittu.Day 2, January 13, 2020. Transfer from Mysore to Masinagudi, birding en-route.We had a light travel day, transiting to Masinagudi in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve area, whichplays host to a number of southern Indian specialties. Following breakfast we checked out andbegan the drive to Masinagudi, where we eventually arrived for lunch. We had a number of stopsalong the way, which included a few dams and some dry roadside scrub and fields, which produceda fine array of species. The top birds seen along the way were a small flock of Bar-headed Geese,Woolly-necked Stork, Asian Openbill, Spot-billed Pelican, Red-naped and Glossy Ibises,Short-toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Shikra, Besra, Green Beeeater, Indian Golden Oriole, Long-tailed Shrike, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Jerdon’sBush Lark, Pied Bush Chat, Booted Warbler, Yellow-billed Babbler, and Red Avadavatamong many others. Following our arrival and lunch at our stunning lodge we had a brief siestabefore venturing out on an afternoon walk around the property and the nearby vicinity. Althoughafternoon birding can sometimes be a bit on the slower side, we were fortunately privy to an actionpacked afternoon, filled with many birds and some glorious sightings. We began things with thelikes of Orange Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and Greenish Warbler before [email protected]

5 TRIP REPORTIndia - South: January 2020added a whole suite of new woodpeckers in quick succession, Rufous Woodpecker, Greater andBlack-rumped Flamebacks, Lesser Yellownape, and Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker,followed by a suite of new Drongos, namely Bronzed, Ashy, the spectacular Greater Rackettailed, and White-bellied, all also in a rapid sequence. We spent a while admiring some of theglorious Plum-headed Parakeets and picked up a few other species such as Bay-backed Shrike,Jungle Babbler, White-browed Bulbul, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Grey Wagtail, BrahminyStarling, and Common Rosefinch among others, before ending the day in a blaze of glory, findinga stunning Changeable Hawk-Eagle that perched for ages, giving us excellent views, along witha pair of the sought Indian Nuthatches. We enjoyed our first Chital (Spotted Deer) along withSambar, the huge Indian (Malabar) Giant Squirrel, our first of many Bonnet Macaques, thelarge Black-footed Gray Langur, Wild Boar, and Indian Grey Mongoose on the mammalianside. Following a great day we retired to a wonderful meal, following which we took a brief nightwalk, which produced a stunning and confiding Brown Fish Owl! We settled in for the evening,high with anticipation for what the following day would hold.We had a wonderful encounter with a confiding Brown Fish Owl.Day 3, January 14, 2020. Birding Masinagudi and surroundingsWe had a full day at our disposal to bird the diverse area around Masinagudi and set off into thenearby dry-scrub forests, where we’d begin the day. We attempted to track down the localized andrare White-bellied Minivet, but were somewhat hampered by unusual thick fog, which kept thevisibility down and made this a tall order. We spent a long while working all the main haunts forthis species, but sadly came up empty-handed, although we did have a wide array of other speciesto keep us entertained during our search. These included our first Indian Peafowl, GreyFrancolin, the regional endemic Grey Junglefowl, Asian Koel, Crested Treeswift, com

6 TRIP REPORTIndia - South: January 2020cheeked Barbet, Small Minivet, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, White-browed Fantail, Brownand Bay-backed Shrikes, Grey-breasted Prinia, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-eyed Babbler,Indian White-eye, Yellow-billed Babbler, and Chestnut-tailed Starling among others. Wecalled a halt to the minivet search and instead turned our efforts to Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, whichwas supposed to be on a nest in the area. We set off on a short walk to the nesting area and soonafterwards were reveling in views of this absolutely majestic owl, perched on its nest in a hole ina tree. Having had our fill of the owl we turned our attention to some of the other birds in the areaand picked up many more exciting species, including Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, SpottedOwlet, our first endemic Blue-winged (Malabar) Parakeet, Large Cuckooshrike, Bar-wingedFlycatcher-shrike, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, and Yellow-throatedSparrow. With smiles all around we decided to give the White-bellied Minivet another try, andsure enough we struck gold when we picked up a pair perched quietly low to the ground, right nextto the road. We had glorious views of this difficult bird before continuing onward and picking upa large number of vultures in the sky. We headed to an area where we could get out of the car, andworking through the large flock showed the bulk to be Indian Vultures, but there were a fewWhite-rumped Vultures in between. It was a real privilege to see these Critically Endangered(IUCN) birds. A soaring Indian Spotted Eagle was the last bird of note we found before callingit a morning, and heading back to our lodge.The scarce White-bellied Minivet eventually showed.Having been cooped up in a car for most of the morning we opted to take a short walk around thelodge grounds to stretch the legs, and, although it was on the quiet side, we did well to pick upmany of the same species we had seen yesterday afternoon, along with a stunning low-flying BlackEagle. We took a rest over the hottest part of the day and headed out later in the afternoon to somemore open habitats, where we tried for a few of our outstanding targets. First up was .com

7 TRIP REPORTIndia - South: January 2020Lark, and we found an individual with minimal effort, which showed well, and present in the samearea were Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Blyth’s Reed and Booted Warblers, Yellow-eyed Babbler,Indian Silverbill, Scaly-breasted Munia, and several Paddyfield Pipits. We headed to anotherarea to search for White-naped Woodpecker, but despite working the area extensively, the closestwe came was hearing a distant bird call for a bit. However, one of the surprises of the day camewhile we were trying for the woodpecker, when an Indian Pitta hopped to the edge of the roadright in front us. Unfortunately, only a few of us managed to see it before it scurried off back intothe thick brush, never to be seen again. We didn’t have to wait long, however, as we picked upanother individual perched quietly in the open at the edge of some thick brush, which showed wellfor all of us. Any day is a good day with a pitta in it! We had a quick break for some coffee andcookies before loading up again and heading off, this time on a night drive. We spent a long whileworking various areas, and our time was rewarded with stunning, close views of Indian, Savanna,and Jungle Nightjars, while Jerdon’s Nightjar only showed briefly and Oriental Scops Owlwas only heard. On the mammalian side vast numbers of Indian Hares kept us company, but, tryas we might, we just couldn’t find anything else except a few Indian Chameleons. We eventuallycalled it a day and retired for a late dinner following a good and successful day out in the field.Day 4, January 15, 2020. Birding Masinagudi and transfer to OotyWe had a short transfer to the old colonial hill station of Ooty and spent our morning tr